MAN OF THE WORLDS
by Matthew Sanborn Smith
Soot had slept little these last few weeks, what with the thing that had ravaged his son still in the cellar. But now outdoors in the daylight, with the imminent arrival of the blue mercenary at hand, he dozed standing up.
In the haze of a dream he heard the quick swish-thump, swish-thump of a forgotten nightmare and suddenly he was awake. I know that noise, he thought. What in Soozham is it? His stomach felt icy and tight as the memories filtered back into his conscious mind. Thrort! That is how the natives had referred to the monstrous six-legged lizards that roamed the Pers Mountains on the far continent. It was a word that was barked rather than spoken. And through the entire Pers campaign that bark heralded fear and often violent death. Soot called to his family inside the cottage, but cut himself short. For now it had come into view and he saw that atop the gigantic reptile rode the Blue Man, his beautiful, faerie-like face greeting Soot from beneath a head of long black hair. A wave of relief swept over him, followed by an extreme confidence in the man who had harnessed this monster.
"Sub-Master Builder," he cried, "I see that you have had experience with life-threatening creatures!" He used the polite lawyer's voice that he had rarely needed since his retirement from the army as the Captain's counselor.
"That I have, good sir. But, please, you may call me Journeyman Exterminator. At least for today."
He dismounted and tied the thrort's head and tail to the dry ground. Soot saw that he was equal to the monster's shoulder. Six and a half feet if he's an inch, he thought. The old man felt an even greater bolstering of his spirit as he saw the irregular curvature of the Journeyman Exterminator's armor. It was Bug armor, ripped from the back of one of the giant insects who own the great jungles of the south. The crusader rose up inside of him and he was almost willing to follow the Blue Man into the cellar, but not quite.
The Blue Man called, "You have not given me your name, old one."
"Oh, yes. It's Mariah Soot," he proclaimed proudly. "And yours is . . . ?"
"I told you," said the Blue Man, looking at Soot a little strangely. "Journeyman Exterminator. At least for today."
Mariah nodded slowly, returning the look. "Yes, of course. How in the world could I have forgotten so soon?"
It then occurred to the Blue Man that Soot's age had probably taken its toll on his memory.
(To Be Continued)